Thursday, September 04, 2008

Native students pick RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME

Just read some terrific news over on Cynsations...

Cynthia Leitich Smith's novel Rain Is Not My Indian Name is the recipient of the Dishchii'Bikoh High School Reader Award. The school is on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in Arizona. I am not surprised that teenagers would make this choice. It features a Native teen of the present day. Refreshing and awesome in so many ways.

Congratulations, Cyn!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Across the country, students are headed back to classrooms. Many teachers and students are watching the Democratic Convention and are aware that race has been a significant conversation in this year's campaign. If you're developing lesson plans around the subject of race, the video When Your Hands Are Tied will prove useful. Click here to go to the companion website and view a trailer. You can get a free copy of the DVD from Oyate. Given Oyate's non-profit status, consider ordering another video from them, or a book, or a CD.

[This review may not be published elsewhere without written permission from its author, Beverly Slapin. Copyright 2008 by Beverly Slapin. All rights reserved.]

When Your Hands Are Tied. 2006, 56 minutes, color, grades 7-up

“When you’re given all these obstacles and barriers,” says Hataalii (healer) Eric Willie (Diné), “when they tie your hands behind your back and your legs together, and they leave you just crawling, what do you do? You develop new ways to communicate, you develop new ways to express self-identity, and that’s what I see with today’s children.”

As Indian communities all over Turtle Island struggle to heal from the generational trauma of the Indian boarding schools, Indian young people struggle to resist the negative pressures of the dominant society. That’s why When Your Hands Are Tied is so important. It’s an exceptional film that explores the realities of Indian young people navigating between the traditional and the contemporary, maintaining strong ties with their communities while expressing themselves in unique ways. The Pueblo, Diné and Apache teens seen here are photographers and filmmakers, breakdancers and rappers, rockers and skateboarders, and all are very talented. The teens—mentored by a young Diné healer, the governor of Nambé Pueblo, a director of American Indian Studies, and artists who are their role models: singer/songwriter Radmilla Cody, rappers Mistic and Shade, the high-energy rock band Blackfire, skateboard artist Douglas Miles and others—learn that it is possible to honor the past while looking to the future. With young people showing and telling what they’re doing, breathtaking views of the land, and amazing music—including Blackfire’s rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “Mean Things Happenin’ in This World”—When Your Hands Are Tied will resonate with Indian teens everywhere.

When Your Hands Are Tied was co-produced by Mia Boccella Hartle and Marley Shebala (Diné/Zuni) as an educational tool to reach families, communities, schools, libraries, and treatment centers, so that everyone can see a positive reflection of what’s happening with Native young people today. Funded by a not-for-profit charitable organization with limited funds, this excellent film was given to us to distribute at no cost to anyone who can benefit from it. Feel free to order it if you can use it well.

DVD, no charge

(As you know, Oyate is an often cash-strapped, grassroots 501(c)(3) non-profit educational organization. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation. Thank you.)

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Audio: THANKS TO THE ANIMALS by Allan Sockabasin

On January 2, 2007, I posted Beverly Slapin's review of Allen Sockabasin's terrific picture book, Thanks to the Animals. Sockabasin is Passamaquoddy. I reread his book yesterday, looking over the Passamaquoddy words included on the last page. I also learned that you can listen to Sockabasin and his daughter reading the story aloud. She reads a line in English; he reads it in Passamaquoddy.

When you're developing lesson plans for the wintertime, plan on using Thanks to the Animals, and teach your students about the Passamaquoddy people. They're in Maine. Click here to go to the tribe's website. Read through their "History" page.

Too many people think Native peoples were primitive, but the fact is, we were recognized as Nations and as such, entered into diplomatic and trade relationships with Europeans.

In spite of efforts to 'kill the Indian and save the man,' Native peoples are still here, and you may be surprised to know, we've got our own governments and services. The Passamaquoddy's, for example, have a police and fire department. Imagine the power of sharing that information with readers who think that Native peoples no longer exist!

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Audio: "How! and Other Approaches to American Indians"

A friend (Thanks, Teresa!) sent me the link to an audio file of a panel at the 2007 Virginia Festival of the Book. The panel included Karenne Wood and Garbrielle Tayac. Both women share powerful stories. Click here to listen.

Karenne is an enrolled member of the Monacan Indian Nation, and, she is Director of the Virginia Indian Heritage Program at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Gabrielle is Piscataway and works as a curator at the National Museum of the American Indian.

Bookmark and Share

Monday, August 18, 2008

Teaching Van Camp's THE LESSER BLESSED

If you teach literature in high school, or if you teach Native lit in a college or university, consider teaching Richard Van Camp's The Lesser Blessed. Readers of this site know I've written several times about Van Camp's work. Today, I direct you to an article called "I Liked It So Much I E-mailed Him and Told Him: Teaching the Lesser Blessed at the University of California." The author is Jane Haladay, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, Pembroke. Here's the first paragraphs. To read the entire article, click on the title (it is hyperlinked) and scroll down to page 66. The article is from the journal, Studies in American Indian Literatures. At the end of her article, Haladay includes an appendix she called "Presentation Guidelines for Making a Strong Presentation."

"I Liked It So Much I E-mailed Him and Told Him"Teaching The Lesser Blessed at the University of California


Class ends like a scene from the novel itself. "Okay, when we meet next week we'll be into our second novel, Richard Van Camp's The Lesser Blessed," I announce.

From the back corner of the room Luana, a Tongan student, is scrutinizing Van Camp's moody book flap photo. "He's hot!" she proclaims. The class -- seventeen women and three men -- laughs. "

Yeah," I concede, "he's a good looking man." I pause. "But he looks even better in person." They perk up, watching me in anticipation. "He's a bit young for me, though," I finally say. More laughter.

"Do you know him?" Luana asks.

"Yes, I met him at a conference last fall. If you ever get a chance to hear him read his stuff, go! He's an incredible storyteller."

"Where's he at again?" Luana asks.

"Vancouver," I tell her.

"Vancouver . . . ," she echoes dreamily.

"Is that in Washington?" somebody else asks.

"It's in Canada," Luana answers.

"I guess you could transfer up there," I say to Luana, "but I hear it gets pretty cold." Not long after this, Luana dropped my class with no explanation. I still wonder if she transferred.

This essay is just one story in the ongoing conversation of how to approach teaching indigenous literatures in colonial educational {67} institutions. My pedagogy stresses sharing an interactive process of reading and reflection with my students, what black feminist scholar bell hooks terms "engaged pedagogy" in her book Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. Hooks's description of engaged pedagogy insists that discomfort, confusion, pleasure, risk-taking, and revelation are not only acceptable but are necessary in the process of acquiring knowledge. While all ethical educators encourage their students to view texts as the ultimate authorities about their own stories' meanings, the complex cultural content of Native texts pushes me and my students even further in recognizing that none of us, sometimes not even the authors themselves, may fully understand what and how the stories "mean" -- and that their meanings are multiple. Through sharing my experiences teaching Richard Van Camp's The Lesser Blessed, I hope to reveal the power of this particular text and the way its effects on students who willingly engage it can create a collaborative learning atmosphere that is transformative. This environment requires me to relinquish primary authority (not always easy) to open a space for student vulnerability and voice, while simultaneously remaining an active moderator and guide shaping the direction of the class. In such a space, students, author, and educator share power in the discussion and comprehension of culture and story.

Students' and my own interactions with the novel's author, Richard Van Camp, a member of the Tlicho, or Dogrib, Nation, have become another strand braided into the collaborative process of teaching The Lesser Blessed.1 I am sharing these interwoven stories to outline the possible ways in which both educators and authors may interact with and be inspired by the "consumers" of their textual productions, those hungry readers of and listeners to their stories. The Lesser Blessed is now taught in only a smattering of U.S. and Canadian high schools, colleges, and universities, and to date there is a dearth of literary criticism on the novel.2 It is my hope that this essay may add to a growing body of discussion around this vital text and encourage other educators to include it in their aboriginal/ Native and other literature curricula.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Leitich Smith Interviews Bruchac

On her blog Cynsations, Cynthia Leitich Smith regularly features interviews she does with writers. On Tuesday, she posted an interview with Joseph Bruchac. Click here to read it.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

"O is Ojibwa"

I'm in Ontario, Canada for a few days (Stratford, to be specific). Stopped in a bookstore, saw a book called M is for Maple: A Canadian Alphabet. Skimmed it quickly and found this on the 'O' page:

O is Ojibwa,
just one of the tribes
that spanned this vast country
before settlers arrived.
We're Canadians all,
but we must never forget
that our land was their land
and we owe them a debt.

I must say, the last three lines blew me away! I've never seen anything like that in an American children's book... Lynne Cheney's alphabet book is a good example. On the N page she writes something like "N is for Native Americans, who came here first."

M is for Maple, by Mike Ulmer, illustrated by Melanie Rose, was published in 2001. I'm sure a good many First Nations people object to Ulmer's "We're Canadians all." In fact, a good many First Nations people do not consider themselves Canadian at all.

Ulmer is a sports columnist for the Toronto Star. While his poem about the Ojibwa is problematic, it also opens the door for some interesting conversations. I wonder if any teachers are having conversations in their classrooms about that page?

UPDATE: August 7, 2008, 12:15 PM

I'm in the children's section of the Stratford Public Library. I've pulled a copy of M is for Maple. Here's more observations on each page. My remarks are in brackets.

A - Anne [of Green Gables]
B - Banting and Best [men who invented insulin] and Bonder [first Canadian woman to fly in space.'
C - Canada and Kim Campbell [page shows Kim Campbell, first female prime minister, in 1993]
D - Dionne Quints [quintuplets taken from their parents at birth in the 30s, lived till age 9 in a theme park where visitors paid to see them.]
E - "Eh" and Edmonton [page shows map of Canada]
F - Fox [Terry Fox lost a leg to cancer; aimed to run across the country to raise money for cancer research; died before he could finish; inspiration for "Terry Fox Runs" held ever year.]
G - Grain, and Governor General who "represents the English monarchy"
H - Hockey [kids shown; range of skin/hair color]
I - Islands [there are many in Canada] and, Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, where 27,000 people of Innu descent live. Illustration is a small island with a house, a dock, and a rowboat.]
J - Justice [illustration is of a Mountie; Royal Canadian Mounted Police formed in 1873 "to bring order to the West."]
K - Klondike [gold rush. I wonder if its history in Canada parallels that in California?]
L - Louisbourg [a place the French and British fought over; the text says the garrison "stands as evidence of France colonizing this land." No mention here of lands belonging to First Nations prior to British and French arrival.]
M - Maple and Montreal [the sidebar says "Long before the first Europeans arrived, Canada's aboriginal peoples had discovered the food properties of maple sap, which they gathered each spring." Note use of past tense.]
N - Northern Lights and Northern Dancer. [Text reads "N is for Northern, the great Northern lights, those mystery visions that light up our nights. The Innu believed that the lights showed a game being played by the Sky People in their heavenly domain." Again, note past tense. Northern Dancer is a racehorse.]
O - Ojibwa and Ottawa.
P - Oscar Peterson, a jazz pianist and Peggy's Cove, a town in Nova Scotia.
Q - Quebec [Sidebar says that since 1534, Quebec has existed as a unique and wonderful French culture. What about prior to 1534?]
R - Rocket [a hockey player named Rocket Richard]
S - Stampede [page is about the Calgary Stampede and rodeo]
T - Toronto and Trudeau
U - Underground railroad and Ukranians [illustration is of an African American family approaching a house, at night]
V - Victoria, which is "the most common name for cities and roads all named in her reign."
W - Wind and Winnipeg [illustration of two dark haired children in the wind]
X - the spot the last spike in the railroad that spanned the country
Y - Yoho, a national park.
Z - Zipper

Persons: Campbell, Dionne Quints, Peterson, Rocket, Trudeau
Things: Anne, Eh, Governor General, Hockey, Justice, Klondike, Maple, Northern Dancer, Northern Lights, zipper
Places: Edmonton, Islands, Iqaluit, Louisberg, Montreal, Peggy's Cove, Quebec, Victoria, Yoho, Toronto
Events: Stampede, X, Underground railroad
People: Ojibwe, Ukranians

It is a mixed bag, this book... Unusual recognition of First Nations peoples but a tendency to use past tense verbs. And as pointed out in the first comment (below), the view is white Canadian. That is the norm by which other things are presented. There seems to be an intent to present diversity of gender and gender roles (scientists, political leaders) and race (jazz musician is black).

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

What is wrong with celebrating diversity?

Among the ALA newsletters I get is one from Booklinks. The theme of the August 2008 issue is "Celebrating Multicultural Literature." I think "celebrate" is a problematic way to approach this body of literature.

Celebrations are meant to mark an event or moment or accomplishment. We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. We do this with cake, balloons, and sometimes, with the exchange of gifts.

As a Native woman, parent, educator, I don't want my Nativeness to be celebrated with material objects. I'd much prefer a fundamental respect for who I am, who Pueblo peoples are, who Native peoples are... I don't want to be honored, on a pedestal...

When we 'celebrate' culture by eating the foods of that culture, or making a craft of that culture, what are we doing? When we plan that sort of activity, what are we conveying, and what are we leaving out or ignoring?

What does it mean to respect a culture/people?

For me, it means an honest presentation of history, of issues, of present day struggle and success... All of it. The good and the bad, the matter of fact. It means publishing books that tell all of that.

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Native doll in Piper's LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD

Earlier today a colleague (thanks for the tip, Robert) asked me what I think of the new illustrations for Watty Piper's The Little Engine That Could. Specifically, he wondered about Long's addition of a Native doll (a girl wearing buckskin). That doll isn't in the 1954 edition with the Hauman illustrations. I went by our local library to get a copy, but that edition is checked out. The older one is on the shelf. The librarian looked to see if there was a copy in Champaign (Urbana and Champaign are twin cities, each with its own library). That one, too, was checked out. Apparently this new edition is popular!

I visited Long's website, where you can see the sketch of the page with the Native doll. As most people know, the illustrations in the story (and this one, too) are of toys that are on the train. I have many questions about why Long included this Native doll. Did he replace one of the other dolls? The one with blonde ringlets? Or, the one with brown hair and a yellow ribbon?

Does Long have a daughter? Does she have "Native American Barbie" or "Kaya" dolls? Or, was Long trying to bring a multicultural touch to his version of this story? Did he include other dolls, meant to represent other ethnicities? Maybe Long is aware of the popularity of Indian in the Cupboard and the idea of Indians as toys, and wanted to add that dimension?

Including Native characters in children's books is important. However! Children, Native or not, need books that portray Native peoples as people, not toys!

Update, December 22, 2015

Here's a screen capture of one page with that doll:

And here's a page of interesting background information on Piper:
In Search of Watty Piper

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sylvia Olsen's YETSA'S SWEATER

[Note: This review may not be published elsewhere without written permission from its author, Beverly Slapin. Copyright 2008 by Beverly Slapin. All rights reserved.]

Olsen, Sylvia, Yetsa’s Sweater, illustrated by Joan Larson. Sono Nis Press, 2006, color, preschool-up; Coast Salish

Yetsa’s sweater has become too small for her, but she doesn’t care. It still keeps her warm, and the patterns that her Grandma knitted into it—flowers because her mom loves gardening, salmon because her dad loves fishing, and waves because Yetsa loves the beach—warm her heart. But soon Yetsa is going to have a new sweater, and now she’s helping Grandma prepare the wool.

Traditionally, Indian children learn experientially, most often from a grandparent or auntie or uncle, usually a little at a time. They’re asked to help, task by task, until they know something well enough to do it independently. Sometimes grandparents look away while children attempt things beyond their skill levels so they can find out that they’re not ready. This is learning, too.

Between the many piles of “raw” wool and the finished sweater, there is lots of hard work—hand cleaning, washing, wringing, drying, teasing, carding, spinning, and knitting—and there’s lots of kidding around and good-natured teasing between Grandma and Mom and Yetsa. One incident in particular is guaranteed to have young readers howling. As Yetsa learns, a wealth of cultural information is shared with readers, too. But there’s no internal conflict about “walking in two worlds” and none of the self-conscious ethnographic expositions common in picture books written by outsiders. Just a happy little girl, secure in the love of her family, growing into the capable, confidant woman she will be. Growing into her new sweater, with “flowers, whales and waves, woolly clouds and blackberries.”

Larson’s pastel artwork, on a palette of rich blues and greens, complement the blacks, browns, whites and grays that constitute the beautiful Cowichan sweaters. You can taste the thick, delicious blackberry jam. You can feel the oily lanolin in the wool. And you can smell the—well, what Yetsa pulls out of a pile of wool. In the story, Yetsa is a very real little girl—and in fact, she’s the author’s granddaughter, in the sixth generation of a family of Coast Salish knitters. Yetsa’s Sweater is a quiet story, full of love and joy, a treasure to read to youngsters, over and over.—Beverly Slapin


Note from Debbie: Yetsa's Sweater is available from Oyate. If you can, purchase the book from Oyate. It may be cheaper from Amazon, but the work Oyate does for Native and non-Native children is work that helps society be a more just and caring world for everyone.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Lack of activity here on American Indians in Children's Literature is because I've been at Acoma, and at Nambe (my home), doing some research but also working on the old adobe home that started out as my grandmothers and eventually came to me. Daughter Liz and I, with help from my parents and nephews, have been mixing a lot of cement to do some new flooring. And, we're working on restoration of a fireplace, too. Good work.

Today (July 24) we're in Santa Fe for a few hours while Liz finishes up some work she's done for our tribal lawyers.

We walked down to the plaza in downtown Santa Fe an hour or so ago and walked past a sign... Liz took the pic, and I'm posting it here. It says:


As I read that sign, I know what it is about. We call it the Pueblo Revolt, NOT "the great Indian uprising." We called it a revolt, because in 1680 we--the Pueblo people--drove the Spanish out of what became New Mexico. A well executed plan to rid our homelands of brutal treatment by the Spanish. I wonder who made the sign? The words the signmaker chose reflect bias... There's a lot of history here, a lot to think about...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Neil Waldman's WOUNDED KNEE

In Volume 16, No. 3 (Spring 2002), Rethinking Schools Online published a review of Neil Waldman's book about Wounded Knee. The review is by Beverly Slapin and Doris Seale. Waldman's book received rave reviews and ended up on a lot of "Best Books" lists, but Slapin and Seale point out problems with the book. And, they recommend Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee instead of Waldman's book. Do read their review.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


[Note: This review may not be published elsewhere without written permission from its author, Beverly Slapin. Copyright 2008 by Beverly Slapin. All rights reserved.]

Bruchac, Joseph (Abenaki), March Toward the Thunder. Dial (2008), grades 5-up.

Between 1861 and 1865, during what has been labeled the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history, more than one million young men, foot soldiers who had enlisted or been drafted into the infantries of the Northern and Southern armies, were maimed or killed as they marched toward the thunder of each other’s artillery.

It’s the summer of 1864, and 15-year-old Louis Nolette, an Abenaki from Canada, is living in New York with his mother. Lured by the promise of good wages and a “fine, clean uniform,” and the North’s stated commitment to end slavery, Louis signs up with the 69th New York Volunteers: the “Fighting 69th,” the “Irish Brigade”—known for its courage and ferocity—marching from New York to Virginia.

An “eager boy going into battle,” what Louis finds out during this long summer is that war is not about heroes and villains: it’s about scared kids on both sides of the trenches, killing and dying for a “cause” that becomes further and further removed from their realities. “Aye,” Sergeant Flynn tells Louis, “war’s a dirty business and never ye forget that.”

A dirty business in more ways than one. Constant attacks by lice and fleas. The unavailability of water for bathing. And the slaughters on both sides that result from incompetent officers and generals whose political careers dictate their military judgments. “God save us from all generals,” Sergeant Flynn says.

March Toward the Thunder is not a blow-by-blow description of some of the major battles of the Civil War, though they are here: Cold Harbor, the Crater, the Bloody Angle, the Wilderness, Petersburg. It is not a roster of the famous names, though some make an appearance, too: Abe Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Clara Barton, and Seneca General Ely Parker. Rather, it is about the exhausted, homesick young people who do the fighting and whom readers will get to know and like—before almost all of them are killed.

Here are “Bad Luck” Bill O’Day and Kevin “Shaky” Wilson, the first to die:

O’Day’s head had been broken open like a melon by a spinning piece of shell. Nor was it likely that Shaky Wilson was still breathing. The last [Louis had] seen Wilson, he was leaning on a fallen tree and trying to hold in a red writhing mass spilling like snakes out of his belly.

Of the others who become friends—amidst “the confusion of gunshot and smoke, shots and screams and the sounds of men calling for water or their mothers”—few are left alive. And many of those others who might survive find parts of themselves left at the hospital tent, with the doctors’ sawbones-approach to medicine:

A grisly pile of arms and legs of men [who] would never shoulder a musket or march again to battle lay stacked four feet high behind the operating area. If and when there was a lull in the action, those lost limbs would be buried in the same earth where men were digging trenches.

In some places, compassion emerges from the bloody chaos. There are informal truces between Blue and Gray young men, who share the little they have. There’s a hushed, nighttime break together, where Louis is wished luck by a young Cherokee Reb whose cousin Louis has pulled to safety (“I do hope you don’t get kilt tomorrow,” he says). There’s the deep friendship that develops between Louis and a young Mohawk named Artis, who, in another war in another time and place, might have become deadly enemies. And there’s this: As Louis’ companions settle into their trenches for the night, they hear a familiar song floating from the enemy camp, “as sweet a version of ‘Amazing Grace’ as he’d ever heard… Then, up and down the line of trenches, Union men began to join in until at least a thousand voices and hearts of men in both blue and gray were lifted above the earthly battlefield by a song.”

Louis Nolette is based on Bruchac’s great-grandfather Louis Bowman, who served in the Irish Brigade in 1864-1865. He was gravely wounded and left for dead, surviving because Thunder came and he was able to drink from the rain pools. Here, Louis, his mother, his comrades,—and his “enemies”—are real people. Through them, middle readers will find no “good guys” or “bad guys,” no simplistic declaration of “mission accomplished.” Rather, with the assistance of a skilled teacher, they will be able to relate to the historical and contemporary issues of military recruitment and war.

Bruchac, who has recently become a grandfather, dedicates this book to “our grandchildren; may they live to see a world in which there is no war.” Through the eyes of a 15-year-old Indian boy become a man, he has crafted a profound statement against warfare. March Toward the Thunder should be required reading for every fifth- and six-grader in this country, for every youngster who is addicted to violent video games, and for every 18-year-old who is contemplating serving in this country’s armed forces.

—Beverly Slapin


Note from Debbie: March Toward the Thunder is available from Oyate, a Native non-profit organization. You can always get a book cheaper at places like Amazon, but supporting Oyate means support of the work Oyate does for children. If you have a choice, order March Toward the Thunder from Oyate.


Update, July 13, 6:45 AM---Here's Joseph Bruchac, singing a song he wrote, "Dare to Hope."


Book trailers! Most people know that a "movie trailer" is a preview of an upcoming movie. As I understand it, a book trailer is a video of a book. They are becoming increasingly popular. Click here to see a book trailer for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Rain Is Not My Indian Name.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cynthia Leitich Smith's JINGLE DANCER going into reprint

Something to celebrate on this sunny (but humid) day! The trade and library editions of Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer are going into reprint. Books only stay in print if people buy them. If you bought a copy, cool. If you haven't gotten one yet, do it today! If you're a teacher in early elementary school, read this book aloud early in the year. With this book, your students will learn a lot about a present-day Native child named Jenna.

Jenna is Muscogee (Creek) and also Ojibway. She lives in Oklahoma. She wants to dance at the upcoming powwow. With the help of her grandma, her auntie, a neighbor, and her cousin, she'll be ready.

My experience reading Cyn's book today was different than all the other times I've read it. Usually, I think of my daughter as Jenna. Reading the book reminds me of the times when my family helped Liz get ready to dance at Nambe. This time, though, I paused when I got to the page where Jenna visits her cousin, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is a lawyer.

My own Liz is in Santa Fe, at this very moment, working for the lawyer who works with Nambe. My Liz is considering law school. For the first time, in the many times that I've read this wonderful book, I see Liz as Elizabeth, not Jenna. And while Liz is at Nambe, she's been busy, sewing traditional dresses. She's making one for her three-year-old cousin who has not yet danced at Nambe.

Cyn's book gives new meaning to me today, and that makes me especially happy to know others can buy it and share it.

Visit Cyn's site for a curriculum guide for Jingle Dancer.

Jingle Dancer is available from Oyate.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Today, Elizabeth Bird (a blogger at School Library Journal), posted her review of Louise Erdrich's The Porcupine Year. It is Erdrich's third book in a series that began with The Birchbark House.

Bird clearly loves the book. I don't know if she posts a live countdown for every book she reviews, but there is one there for the moment when The Porcupine Year hits the shelves on September 2nd.

Earlier this year I listened to Erdrich read from her new novel, The Plague of Doves. It came out in April and is in its third printing. The story she tells is based on the lynching of three American Indians in 1897 in North Dakota. At the 2006 New Yorker Festival she read aloud the story "The Plague of Doves" that would become the novel. If you want to hear that reading, click here.

I bring up her reading here because today, months after I heard her read, those voices are still with me. A gifted writer, she is also an outstanding reader. I'd love to hear her read aloud The Porcupine Year! Like Elizabeth, I was taken with the dialog.

And, as with her first book, Erdrich gives us an honest portrayal of peoples in conflict. In her books, there is none of the savage melodrama that Wilder uses in her series. The world might be a better place if we replaced every copy of Wilder's Little House on the Prairie with Erdrich's series. In Erdrich, children see human and humane, fully developed Native characters whose culture is in conflict with those who want what they have. Thoughtful and thought-provoking.

Betty Reid and Ben Winton's KEEPING PROMISES

Teachers and librarians looking for books to add to their reference and non-fiction shelf will find Keeping Promises: What is Sovereignty and other Questions about Indian Country especially useful.

The cover itself is worth the cost of the book. Each photo on the cover poses and answers a question about American Indians. In the center is a photograph of Native cheerleaders. On the right are two boys; one in street clothes, the other in traditional clothes. [Note: traditional clothes are not costumes. Think of it this way: the clothes you put on for special occasions are not costumes.] Bottom left is a photo of Jim Northrup and his grandson. Northrup writes a monthly newspaper column called Fond Du Lac Follies. He's also a veteran of the United States Marine Corp.

Inside are answers to the following questions:

  • Who is an Indian?
  • How many Indians live in the United States?
  • What is a tribe?
  • What is sovereignty?
  • How many reservations are there?
  • Can anyone buy and sell reservation land?
  • Who lives on reservation land?
  • What is the relationship between state governments and tribal governments?
  • Why can reservations have gambling if the states they are in don't allow it?
  • How do tribal governments work?
  • How do tribes work together?

There is a section called Between Nations that includes the following subsections:

  • How the idea of treaties developed
  • When Indians became wards of the government
  • Winning back sovereignty
  • The evolution of Indian political activism

Most Americans think American Indians were primitive and not very smart. That is not true! Books like Keeping Promises can help you and the children you work with understand who American Indians were (and are). With that information, you (and students) are better able to discern stereotypical and biased presentations of American Indians in children's books.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

It was suggested I make use of Blogger's 'label' option as a means to organize material on the site. Once I enabled it, I realize how sporadically (and even haphazardly) I've been using labels! Given that I've been running this site for two years, it'll take some time to clean up the labels on old posts, but I'm working on it... You can see the LABEL category if you scroll way down, bottom right.

Your suggestions welcome!

Monday, July 07, 2008


Little House, Long Shadow: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Impact on American Culture, by Anita Clair Fellman is getting some exposure today on the webpage for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Via correspondence some years ago, I knew Fellman was working on this book, and I'm glad to see it is out. Here's an excerpt from the article:

She found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that Wilder's own staunch individualism had informed the tenor of the novels. "Distraught by New Deal policies that created an expanded role for government," Wilder had, in her books, expressly depicted government as "nothing but rules and bureaucracies destructive to the enterprising individual," sometimes manipulating the facts of her youth — on which the books are based — to achieve this effect. The Little House books instead champion the self-reliance, isolationism, and "buoyancy of spirit" Wilder felt had made America great.

Fellman carefully notes, "Looking at the Little House books in this way would be only a case study for my starting proposition that sources other than overtly political thinking and rhetoric might have contributed to a continued appreciation for individualist ideas." Yet, she continues, "there are not many people who are aware of the formative influence of what they read in childhood on their core political views."

Fellman and I are on the same page with regard to the formative influence of children's books. I've ordered her book and look forward to reading it. Given that so many Americans revere Wilder and her books, Fellman is likely getting some angry email. A sample of that anger can be seen in the 'Customer Reviews' portion of the Amazon website.

Little House and books like it that inaccurately portray American Indians as savages are formative in another way... They teach that there is such a thing as a savage other who is less than human, who must be dealt with for the security and safety of America. That ideology, well nurtured throughout the formative years, is what makes it possible for Americans to believe that there are savage others elsewhere, like in Iraq.

Recall the capture of the Army's 507th Maintenance Company in March of 2003. One of the soldiers said "We were like Custer. We were surrounded." (see Former POW: 'We were like Custer.')

And consider the words of Paul Strand, a reporter for the Christian Broadcast Network, who said to Pat Robertson (see the Indian Country Today editorial that includes this excerpt):

"Everywhere we've gone we have seen artillery ahead of us and then artillery behind and we're getting reports that there's fighting in all of the cities that we've already been through. So I guess if this were the Old West I'd say there are Injuns ahead of us, Injuns behind us, and Injuns on both sides too, so we really don't want to give the enemy any hints about where we are."

These are two examples of the 'savage other' ideology at work. I encourage you to read Michael Yellow Bird's article "Cowboys and Indians: Toys of Genocide, Icons of American Colonialism" (published in Wicazo Sa Review, Fall, 2004). He suggests that "select members of the Arab world now seem to have become the "new Indians" (p. 44).

Toys and books.

Some people argue that we put too much stock into the effects of toys and books. But it seems to me people make that argument when their (perhaps) unexamined values and decisions based on those values are challenged. These critiques are decried as "PC run amok." They don't (or won't) see their own views as the other side of that "PC" coin...

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Laura Ingalls Wilder: "All I have told is true..."

In 2005, James Frey's "memoir" A Million Little Pieces was exposed as fraudulent. This was a big story, especially when Oprah challenged him about it. In 2008, Margaret B. Jones "memoir" called Love and Consequences was exposed as untrue. She presented it as her personal story, but the things she described did not happen to her. She made it up.

In 2006, Random House (publisher of A Million Little Pieces) offered a refund to readers who felt they had been defrauded. To qualify for the refund, the consumer had to sign a sworn statement saying they had bought the book because they believed it was a memoir.

A few days ago, I posted "Selective Omissions, or What Laura Ingalls Wilder left out of LITTLE HOUSE." If you've read the comments, you know that there are questions about why Wilder included the story about the Benders in her speech. The Ingalls family was no longer in their little house when the Benders came under suspicion and then disappeared. As noted elsewhere on this site, Laura was a toddler when her Pa took the family to that little house. Yet, the Laura in the book is not a toddler, she's a girl.

Calling attention again to what Wilder said in her speech:

Every story in this novel, all the circumstances, each incident are true. All I have told is true, but it is not the whole truth. There were some stories I wanted to tell but would not be responsible for putting in a book for children, even though I knew them as a child.

All those stories Wilder tells about Laura... How much of that 'memoir' is similar to Frey and Jones and their "memoirs"? Given how dearly-loved Wilder and her books are, I think some of you (most of you?) who are reading this are furious that I'd even suggest that Wilder did the same thing Frey did... Course, he did tell some whoppers on page after page, so her memoir isn't quite like his, yet, she certainly misrepresents American Indians in her book.

What does it mean to be defrauded? Must a reader be an adult before being defrauded matters? Is it the case that courts are willing to say "adults can get a refund for being defrauded" but that kids who believe Wilder's stories to be true do not merit a refund? Obviously I don't mean for any child to be issued a refund...

But! If you're a teacher or librarian, I hope you'll give this some thought, even if the suggestion infuriates you. As an educator, your responsibility is to the children in your school, not to Laura Ingalls Wilder or her books. Rather than read her books as literature, perhaps it is time to use them with older children, as items in critical media or critical literacy lessons.